Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is not over. Nine years after it first launched, the number of officials snared by central government investigators only continues to grow. The January execution of the once-powerful Party official Lai Xiaomin, a “tiger” in Xi’s anti-corruption parlance, 24 days after his sentencing on corruption and bigamy charges was but one instance in a newly vigorous campaign to eliminate corruption—and, in at least some instances, enforce loyalty to Xi. At The Wall Street Journal, Chun Han Wong reports on Xi’s latest push in his years-running anti-corruption campaign, which this time targets officials long-since removed from office:
Authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have detained dozens of retired officials now in their 60s and 70s, including one who stepped down more than 14 years earlier, since launching a campaign in the spring of 2020 to punish alleged coal-related corruption going back 20 years. In recent months, judicial agencies in several cities said they were reviewing commuted jail sentences and parole cases from as long as three decades ago to uncover past misconduct. In May, Beijing ordered public-security agencies to set up mechanisms for reinvestigating old cases as part of a national crackdown on organized crime.
[…] In stepping up scrutiny into past misconduct and enforcing lifelong accountability for officials, Mr. Xi wants “to keep the fight against corruption constantly at high pressure and renew it perpetually,” said Ren Jianming, director of the Clean Governance Research and Education Center at Beihang University in Beijing.
[…] The campaign “also discourages experimentation, innovation and risk-taking among local cadres for fear that any departure from established and approved procedures may be deemed illegal,” said Elizabeth Perry, a professor of government at Harvard University who studies Chinese politics. “And certainly the retrospective inspections compound this fear.”
[…] As of late April, investigators in Inner Mongolia had opened cases against nearly 1,000 people, including one deceased official, and recovered the equivalent of more than $6 billion in economic losses, according to party disclosures and state media reports. [Source]
For instance, in a campaign to cleanse corruption in Inner Mongolia's coal industry, known as "probe backwards 20 years" (倒查20年), investigators have detained dozens of retired officials now in their 60s and 70s, including one who stepped down more than 14 years earlier.
— Chun Han Wong 王春翰 (@ByChunHan) June 3, 2021
Experts say such retrospective probes help Xi reinvigorate his antigraft campaign and consolidate power, but they could also exacerbate inaction among officials increasingly afraid of running afoul of an expanding set of Communist Party regulations that Xi has imposed.
— Chun Han Wong 王春翰 (@ByChunHan) June 3, 2021
Xi has enacted or revised more than 40 major party regulations so far—roughly 3 times what Hu Jintao did as party chief from 2002-2012, and more than double what Jiang Zemin did during his 13-year stint as party leader, per @WSJ review of data from Chinalawinfo database.
— Chun Han Wong 王春翰 (@ByChunHan) June 3, 2021
Among those targeted were at least 34 retired officials, including one who turns 75 this month and left office in 2006 https://t.co/6A6OydRXkH
— Christian 马思潭 (@cdcshepherd) June 3, 2021
The purge of officials in Inner Mongolia may be used as an example for other provinces to emulate, according to some academics. In a March article for the South China Morning Post, William Zheng reported on the anti-corruption drive in Inner Mongolia and how it might serve as an template for provinces across the nation to follow:
“The national rejuvenation objective cannot be achieved without a regional party apparatus doing exactly what the party central led by Xi requires,” Tsang said. “What better way than to apply the anti-corruption drive to clean up the party in Inner Mongolia and ensure they follow his instructions?”
[…] Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said he expected a similar purge in other regions and provinces.
“Large-scale clean-ups at the department, bureau and county levels are deemed necessary because Beijing knows these are the backbone of the Communist Party’s rule,” he said. “The campaign in Inner Mongolia might be seen as a model that can be applied in other provinces.”
[…] “Retirement and resignation means nothing now – the hunt for corruption is for life,” said the researcher, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media. [Source]
At Nikkei Asia, Tsukasa Hadano wrote about a new wave of officials turning themselves in to preempt investigations and harsher punishments:
The number of government officials involved in corruption cases who turned themselves in jumped by half in 2020 to 16,000, apparently in an effort to demonstrate President Xi Jinping’s ability to project authority throughout the Communist Party hierarchy ahead of the 2022 edition of the twice-a-decade party congress.
The surge follows the discipline committee’s January 2020 decision that officials who voluntarily surrendered would be shown leniency, while those repeatedly accepting bribes would be dealt with harshly.
[…] The anti-graft campaign that Xi launched soon after taking power as the party’s general secretary in 2012 has ensnared numerous high-level party officials. None of the Communist Party’s top 200 officials were disciplined last year — a first under Xi — which observers chalk up to the president having already solidified his position by targeting political foes and bringing allies into key posts. [Source]
In Yunnan Province, of 57 officials and employees in state-owned steel Kunming Iron and Steel Holding “involved” in a corruption case, 25 executives have already “voluntarily disclosed” their own wrongdoing. At the South China Morning Post, Wang Xiangwei detailed how officials in Kunming abused their power to build golf courses and luxury villas on nature reserves:
According to the findings of the investigators, about one-third of the 163km shorelines of the Dianchi Lake – most of which are designated nature conservation areas – have been encroached by property developments and golf courses.
[…] Before the central government investigators arrived last month, the owners inserted small trees on the surface of the course. In front of the TV cameras, the investigators asked one local official to pull out one tree with his hands, which the official did with embarrassing ease.
At the nearby Changyao Hill, another conservation area, the developers turned 90 per cent of the hill’s surface into “concrete mountains” with the construction of low-rise residential buildings and villas, some of which have been sold, according to the reports. The developers appeared to have secured all the necessary approvals under the guise of operating a holiday resort. [Source]
The parallel “Special Campaign to Crack Down on Underworld Forces”, ostensibly targeted at criminal cells and their corrupt abettors, has now transformed into an internal rectification campaign targeting China’s security forces. In a March article for The Economist, David Rennie analyzed the latest campaign, which is focused on “turning the knife-blade inward” and excising those deemed disloyal:
State-controlled media have described it as the biggest such campaign since the late 1990s within the domestic-security system, which includes the police, the secret police, the judiciary and prisons. It is due to last for about a year. The aim is to ensure that these agencies are “absolutely loyal, absolutely pure and absolutely reliable”. Officials say the campaign will be like the “Yan’an Rectification” of the early 1940s. That was when Mao—then the leader of a communist insurgency—staged a sweeping and brutal purge of the party’s ranks to consolidate his control. Such language suggests that many heads will roll as the party attempts to clear the “dense miasma” surrounding the security apparatus, cure it of “chronic illness” and ensure it remains “surnamed Party” (meaning as loyal to the party as if to a family member).
[…] Its launch was heralded in July with trial runs in a handful of local police forces, courts and prosecutors’ offices, as well as in two prisons and one local state-security bureau (home to the dissident- and spy-hunting secret police). In charge of this experimental phase was Chen Yixin, a senior security official who appears to be a troubleshooter for Mr Xi—in February last year, in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, he was sent to Wuhan to help supervise efforts to crush and contain the central city’s massive outbreak of the disease. Mr Chen said “education and rectification” of the security forces was a task of “urgency and extreme importance”. He described the campaign as “scraping the bones to remove the poison, and draining away the filth to bring in fresh water”. Police at the time were reaching the end of a three-year campaign against criminal gangs and their “protective umbrellas” within the government. That effort resulted in the smashing of more than 14,700 criminal groups. But apparently it did not succeed in purifying the police.
[…] The campaign may benefit Mr Xi. Late next year he will preside over a five-yearly party congress, which will mark a critical juncture of his leadership. Normally he would be expected to step down at this event, having served as general secretary for a decade. But he shows no intention of doing so. There have been few obvious signs of opposition to granting him another five-year term. The contrast between China’s successful control of the coronavirus and the West’s fumbling response may have further strengthened his hand. But by tightening his grip on the security forces he can be even more certain that no one will dare to oppose him. [Source]